View Full Version : Formatting for Multiple 1st person narrators

03-02-2011, 06:12 AM
Okay, I have a book I'm drafting which will be published in ebook only. For reasons that I don't want to reveal (it's a big spoiler for fans of my series, who might wander onto this thread on a google search), I have to have two first person narrators. My biggest worry about this is the possibility of confusion for readers.

I played with the idea of switching at chapter breaks, which I think would be less confusing, but it just isn't going to work, because the narratives have to be intertwined, and it would lead to super short chapters of a scene or two each.

I recently read The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, and he pulled this feat off quite well by using different fonts for his narrators. Near as I can tell, I can't do that on Kindle or Smashwords. (Can I?) So I was thinking about switching between plain and bold text.

Which do you think is worse?
-Possibly confusing head-hopping every couple scenes all in the same type face
-Large blocks of text in bold

Thanks for your input. :)

EDIT: Apologies if this should have gone in the formatting subforum.

K. Taylor
03-02-2011, 07:53 AM
What about putting the name of the character above their POV section? Have a break of either space or some symbols then start with the Name Title and new POV.

03-02-2011, 04:00 PM
I can't do that on Kindle or Smashwords. (Can I?)

So far as I'm aware, no.

I think what you need to do is give your two narrators very distinct and different voices. I would pair this suggestion with K. Taylor's suggestion of heading the sections with the characters' names.

Example (optimism and pessimism)
character 1
I trudged down the dirty street, my eyes and nose streaming from the sun's glare and from hayfever induced by the spring flowers. I paused by the stinking canal, leaned against the rusting iron railings, and dug the squashed sandwich out of my back pocket. Staring into the floating litter and oily scum on the water's surface, I bit into the mushy bread and grimaced. My mother had forgotten to throw out the rancid butter, again.
character 2
I skipped out of the building and into the bright warmth of a spring afternoon. After a long, hard winter, the smell of warm asphalt and flowers in bloom filled me with good cheer. As I crossed the picturesque Victorian bridge over the canal, iridescent hues glittered on the oily surface of the water, and the metal of supermarket trolleys and discarded tin cans sparkled in the sunlight.

03-02-2011, 07:13 PM
K. Taylor may be on to something. Elizabeth Bear did something like this in Hammered (http://www.amazon.com/Hammered-Elizabeth-Bear/dp/0553587501/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1299078278&sr=8-7). (And I'm sure other writers have done something similar.)

Each time a different character's POV came up, the section was labeled as being in a certain building or city, the date, the time...whatever made it specific for that particular character. Since this was SF set in the not-too-distant future (and I think the MC was in the military at some point), the labeling was stiff, in a military-type way.

Not sure if that's the way you'd like to go, but thought I'd give you another idea to think.

And I know it's just going ebook, but I don't care for the idea of switching between different fonts to denote character.


03-03-2011, 04:42 AM
GRRM changes POV consistently throughout the Song of Ice & Fire series. Each chapter starts with the name of the POV character. It's not first person, but it's a big neon sign saying 'DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT STARTS HERE!'

For the record, I'm not a fan of the swapping fonts either. In novels I find it gimmicky. That's an opinion, of course, but my gut tells me you're a strong enough writer to do without.

I'd go with a chapter break. If that's not possible then the Hammered suggestion is a very good one.

Whatever you do, you need the neon sign.

03-04-2011, 01:10 AM
Thanks everyone. I think I'll just have to go with labeling. I'm not crazy about bolding half the book.